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W. Edwards Deming and Systems for Creating

W. Edward Deming was the architect, or rather, engineer behind the economic comeback of post-WWII Japan whose thoughts are surprisingly relevant to creative work.

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” W. Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 — December 20, 1993)

I had never heard of W. Edward Deming until earlier this week when the above quote stopped me in my tracks. It’s a sentiment that I’ve been sharing in classes for 5 years now. If you can’t tell me the exact steps that you’ll take to design something then you don’t actually have a process. You’re reactively f**king around until you A) are happy, B) have run out of time, or C) have given up. Now to many people that’s exactly what “process’ means—an amorphous cloud of random shit that you do until you’re done—and that’s why I’ve started using the term “method”—“a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, especially a systematic or established one”—to describe how I work.

The quote came from this introductory article by Rob Leathern that also introduces his “14 Points for Management” which basically outline the idea that the quality of a product and its production is a direct by-product of the system that created it. In Deming’s view a staff that produces a high number of mistakes, defects and flaws is basically the logical outcome of a system that is flawed at both the technological and human (i.e., how people manage and are managed) levels.

This correlates perfectly to an idea that I can’t shut up about: a good design method will produce good work. Something that I’ve seen in my own work (MVA work after 2011 is almost all systems generated and I think projects from 2013 are light years ahead of projects from 2011) and in my students’ work. My teaching since 2016 is entirely focused on methodology and the work routinely astounds me in a way that didn’t happen 5 years ago. Replicable methods yield consistent results. Random f**king around yields work that is randomly good.

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I will definitely need to come back for a longer post on Deming because my cursory amount of research has already resulted in a lot of ideas that ring true to me but are not the status quo of today’s world.